Etiquette Guidelines for Using Voicemail in Business Communications

Voice mail, too, requires its own etiquette and attention to detail to maintain a professional image. Using voice mail productively and properly, when managing conversations, will help you be a more effective business professional. Voice mail is, in essence, the keeper of your return calls and messages. Voice mail allows you to receive business-related messages, even if you are not available. It is a great tool, because you can use the caller's tone as an indicator of sentiment, which you cannot always get from a text or e-mail; you know instantly on a voice mail if you are receiving a complaint or good news. Let's begin with the basics of voice mail etiquette and then move on to other important related topics.

The basics of voice mail:

  • You should always identify yourself and your company on a voice mail and move quickly to the point. Let the message recipient know you value their time.

  • When you leave a voice mail, you should state your name, company, the date and time of your call, and a callback number.

  • When leaving a voice mail, you should speak exactly like you do to someone else who is in the room. Using appropriate volume, speak clearly, and speak slowly so the person on the other and can understand what you have said.

  • Voice mail etiquette is also combined with general phone etiquette.

  • Voice mail should be simple to use, whether you use a desktop voice mail system, a digital version from your phone carrier, or your cell phone carrier.

  • Set up the paging option in your voice mail, if it is available. This allows a caller to page you by pressing a number on their phone keypad. It may also help them assign an urgency.

  • Voice mail requires a "mailbox" or account for entering keypad commands, recording outgoing messages, and retrieving messages.

  • When you set up a mailbox, a space is created on a server for your messages. It opens a file where your digital messages can be stored. When you enter a pass code, you can listen to, or manipulate your voice mail box.

  • The keypad commands allow you to forward messages, archive messages, delete messages, and reply to messages.

Telephone basics and other related topics

Being effective on the telephone and using voice mail provides you many advantages from a business standpoint, because many people do not use the phone or voice mail well. The telephone is a great tool for getting our messages across, and voice mail is a great tool for collecting information. Remember the telephone is often the next best thing to face-to-face conversation.

Let us walk through the steps of leaving a proper voice mail.

As a guide, one suggestion is to treat each voice mail like you are leaving a memo. It should have the same level of detail, so the return caller has the information from the call to help them make a decision. Who is calling, what are they requesting, where do I need to be, when do I need to be there, why is this call important, and what other details do I need to know? Do they need to return a call to you, or was your call just informational? If they do need to return a call what specific information did you need. On the other hand, if you are leaving details they need, make you message succinct and meaningful.

Always make sure you have reached the correct voice mail. Occasionally you reach numbers that have no voice message. So you may actually be leaving a message on the wrong voice mail. Always check the number listed on your phone and ensure that is the individual you intended to call.

Do not forget that some individuals screen calls to weed out the unimportant ones and may answer your call as you are speaking. So be prepared.

If you are leaving a voice mail, say, "Hello this is (your name), today is (date), the current time is (a.m./p.m.), and I'm calling about (subject). Please contact me at your convenience at (phone number)." Remember to leave all the pertinent information that you would expect, if someone were taking a message for you. This includes the who, what, where, when, and why. You want to reflect the appropriate level of professionalism. You would leave a very specific voice mail for someone, such as your attorney or a caterer, but would leave a totally different voice mail for a personal friend who you were to meet for the concert. Personal voice mails are the perfect opportunity to practice for your professional voice mails. They should contain the same basic information.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Business Etiquette course?
  • Speak slowly and clearly when you leave a voice mail. The recorded message may not be as clear as a face-to-face conversation, or a direct call.

  • Avoid leaving too much information on a voice mail. Just the pertinent facts.

When you do receive a call back, thank the caller for the return call. Focus your attention on your original message and ask for any clarification. Always keep your conversation businesslike, and focus on the call, not computer screens or other distractions in the office.

The return call

When you receive a return call, be considerate to the caller. You may need to put the caller on hold to gather information for the call. Let them know how long they will hold. Something like, "Please give me 30 seconds to retrieve my notes."

If they call back at a really bad time, let the caller know -- in a respectful way -- that you are not available, and when you'll call back.

If you are returning someone's call, allow the person you are calling to tell you the reason for the original call before launching into your own message.

Voice mail should work for you as a business tool

Here are some tips for updating your voice mail to present a professional business image.

  • Update your voice mail recording routinely.

  • Update any information about your business or contact information.

  • Make sure to thank the caller for their call; let them know their call is important to you; include your name, company name, and a statement that you will return their call as soon as the opportunity presents.

  • Do the same on your cell phone and work phone.

The future of voice mail

Here is some information on the future of voice mail. Voice mail currently serves a much-needed purpose in the business world. It ensures we communicate, even if we are not available, and lets an existing or potential customer know they are important and we will be back in touch with them soon.

There are several different perspectives on the future of voice mail with new emerging technology. Some companies, such as Coca-Cola, have replaced their voice mail systems with a pre-recorded message that advises the caller to find an "alternative method" to reach them, such as e-mail. E-mails and texts are slowly becoming voice mail alternatives. The reasons are: 1) Usage of voice mail is decreasing nationally, according to phone companies. 2) Younger generations of users do not use voice mail. They prefer to send a text, e-mail, or social media to make contact. 3) Many phone users are annoyed by additional charges by cell and landline companies for voice mail service. 4) Users of voice mail have responded to surveys that they find automated voice mail annoying, and most human voice mails not much more interesting. How often have you heard, "At the tone, please record your message. When you finish recording you may hang up, or press '1' for more options."

The trend is on the rise, as more and more corporate voice mail boxes now warn callers that their messages will not be returned in a timely manner. The main reason is there is a cost associated with having employees listen to a voice mail, then reroute it for action through an e-mail or another phone call. Voice mail duplicates efforts. It is great at the individual level for a small number of voice mails, but rapidly grows to an ineffective way to do business for large corporations.

Emerging technology, such as Google Voice and other audio-to-text transcription services, are available, but there is an associated cost with moving to this technology. Most companies have chosen not to gravitate in that direction, but have instead given customers alternate methods to reach them. Unfortunately, that leaves businesses with a legacy system that decreases organizational productivity and does not effectively use technology. Companies also have no control over the length of a voice mail, so they have no means to reduce variation. Some voice mails are 30 seconds, and some may be four minutes. The employee still has to listen for four minutes to determine what action to take. No one would leave that much information in a text or e-mail. So you can see why companies are moving to other methods of communication.

Voice Mail Etiquette Tips

Good telephone etiquette is important in demonstrating a professional image to the public and your colleagues. Following are voice mail etiquette tips.

  • Determine if it is even necessary to leave a message. Never ask a person to call you back, if you can provide them with information that eliminates the need for them to call you back. Also, do not leave a message, if you are going to tell the person you will try them later. It only wastes additional time. Never ask a question on voice mail that they can find the answer to before calling you back.

  • Do not eat, drink, or chew gum when leaving a voice mail, or when talking on the phone.

  • Identify yourself immediately on a call or voice mail. "Hello, this is Kacey Monroe with AXIOM Printing."

  • Provide your phone number (twice). Always use your phone number twice -- once at the beginning of the message, and at the end. This gives the person an opportunity to get pen and paper handy.

  • Leave your call-back number. Even if you assume the caller has your phone number, leave it on the voice mail. They may not have it handy, or may not remember off the top of their head.

  • Anticipate leaving a voice mail and plan your message. Determine your message in advance and know the key points you want to get across. Write down your message, if necessary. Limit your message to only a few points per message, so it is not lengthy.

  • Quickly get to the point of the message. An example is: "I am returning your call from Tuesday."

  • Speak slowly and clearly when delivering your message. Give the listener time to process information and write it down, if necessary. Be aware that it may be difficult to figure out a phone number that is said too quickly, or cannot be distinguished.

  • Speak clearly when saying your name, phone number and other important information. Even with great technology, voices can be distorted when leaving recordings.

  • Be careful what you say. Remember, your voice message is being recorded and can be forwarded to others via e-mail with one click. Think about what you say, and the tone you use.

  • Be succinct. Don't ramble, and don't say phrases such as, "uh" or "um." Get to the point quickly and end the call.


Summary, reminders, and takeaways

Voice mail requires its own etiquette and attention to detail to maintain a professional image. Using voice mail productively and properly will help you be a more effective business professional. You should always identify yourself and your company on a voice mail and move quickly to the point. Let the message recipient know you value their time. When you leave a voice mail you should state your name, company, the date and time of your call, and a call-back number. There are several different perspectives on the future of voice mail, with new emerging technology. Usage of voice mail is decreasing nationally for major corporations. For individuals, it is still an effective way to manage a small number of calls, but rapidly grows to an ineffective way to do business for large corporations.